I believe in public lands.
I am seasonal ranger who has worked for the National Park Service and the US Forest Service, from the scorched plains of South Dakota to the mossy forests of Southcentral Alaska. In these positions, I have patrolled many miles of trails, picked up countless bits of toilet paper, written tickets for illegal campfires and given advice on where to camp. I play a very small role in the relationship we have to land that miraculously possesses and is possessed by all of us. It is this idea, that we each have a small share in vast landscapes, which draws me to help conserve what it is we have left.
Many people dream about becoming rangers (I meet most of them on the trail) but few have the good fortune to be hired to walk trails, clean drainage, and educate our fellow citizens. Even fewer can afford to deposit the seasonal’s paycheck—easy on the cash, heavy on the scenery—for more than one sublime summer. But those of us who are lucky enough to hang on, do so not only because we love the sunsets, or the sound of rain on our tents, but because it gives us a chance to be a part of something extraordinary.
Sometimes I forget, hiking down the trail four days into a patrol, hot and buggy, carrying too much food, or sometimes too little, not wanting to stop and give a reminder about a fire ban, or advice on where to get water. There are times when I see people walking through the fragile meadow and wish I could limit the numbers, to admit only a handful. But which handful? Can we really determine that one person has more of a right to these lands than another?
Some people believe that all of these lands, our lands, should be privatized. But selling off public lands will result in a drastic change in our social and physical landscape. I work hard in the field restoring alpine meadows, informing visitors and monitoring campsites. I do this not because I am paid to, though I am, but because I love the land, and I honor the fact that I am entrusted by the rest of the nation to care for the flanks of this mountain, the banks of this river.
The chance to memorize bends in a trail and take for granted a sunset scene of rose-tinted peaks is ephemeral, lasting a few seasons, perhaps a dozen. The positions are filled again with people who will walk the same trails and feel, as I do, the beguiling affection for subtle daily changes in the color of ripening blueberries or the faraway yawns of crevasses. But for now I am gratified to keep learning about my charge, to carry on with tiny gestures of picking up trash and cleaning debris from trail, to protect a particular spot on the map with a sense of wonder, a bit of hope and a shovel. I believe in public lands.
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